Core beliefs – what is needed to change them?

Core beliefs are, by definition, deeply embedded and resistant to extraction. It’s not effective either to fight them or to try and ignore them. However they can be transformed into something extremely positive and useful.  I believe that a number of factors have to be in place if we are to do this effectively. For a start I suspect that one thought-form can only be replaced with another thought-form; nature abhors a vacuum. You can blow off the ‘steam’ that results from the workings of the core belief with a purely emotional release, but you cannot change the belief itself in this way. That’s because the emotions are only the symptoms, not the cause of the trouble.

Another key recognition is that the old beliefs met important needs for the child who adopted them, and strong feelings are tied up with those needs and the situation which led to their adoption. Safety is often an issue, and it can even be a matter of physical survival. It takes courage to relinquish talismanic beliefs that have been part of us for decades, without knowing that we can find other ways of being safe. On the other side of the equation – and usually more present to the individual seeking healing –  are all the needs which have been frustrated by the stranglehold of the core belief (often including freedom, connection, and growth). The discomfort caused by the separation from these needs can act as the stimulus we need to start changing the story. But ditching a core belief is not a step to take lightly. It’s like when a hermit crab changes shells. You need to find a new story and test it very carefully before abandoning the old one.

The Transforming the Pain of Unmet Needs to the Beauty of the Needs process developed by Robert Gonzales touches on some of these issues, especially in the NVC Dance Floor version created by Gina Lawrie and Bridget Belgrave, where the ‘jackal thoughts’ are brought out into the open right at the start of the process. In this dance floor, the thought processes which trigger the negative emotions (and thus the ‘unmet needs’, in NVC theory) are exposed for what they are (a ‘story‘), and a view is offered of how the world would look without them. (Of course many variations of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) also attempt to work on the level of changing thoughts, but they typically fail to take the feelings and needs into account and so do not bring lasting results). NVC trainers Nicole Leipert-Knaup and Irmtraud Kauschat have gone a step further by copyrighting an effective ‘dance floor’ called the Glaubenssatz-prozess (Core Belief Process – only available in German), which adds the crucial steps of choosing and anchoring a new, life-affirming belief to replace the life-limiting old core belief. It features the unmet needs – mourning and met needs – celebration which I find essential, but also many other steps which don’t bring me clarity and which lean rather towards the abstract and intellectual side.  Kirsten Kristensen and Farrah Baut-Carlier also developed a transforming process which rather goes in the opposite direction, with a strong focus on the emotional side, but which adds in the ‘Turnaround’ or playful deconstruction of the old belief. This is one of Byron Katie’s brilliant tricks. Katie’s world-renowned Work is powerfully dedicated to exactly the same mission of transforming core beliefs even though she doesn’t use those words. She also offers us the Reality Check, as well as a more explicit connection between the beliefs and the feelings and behaviours these create, which I find indispensable in making the connection between body, heart and mind.

I have borrowed and condensed what I think is the best from all these approaches to create a new process for transforming core beliefs, which I have been actively working with since 2015. It has at its heart the energy forms which we refer to as human needs, and in exploring it we are guided to switch between the three main centres in the human organism where those energy forms manifest, namely the intellectual, emotional and physical centres. It celebrates the survival value of the old story and mourns the sacrifices which adopting that story has entailed for us. It loosens the verbal grip of the core belief, puts all the needs on the table and explores alternative ways of meeting them by creating a new story and anchoring it. Finally a future course is charted which will manifest the new story rather than the old. In this way the process attempts to cater for all types of human response patterns, encourages us to include and balance the centres and guides us to making lasting new agreements with ourselves which will better serve our needs. It’s summarised and represented here as a visual map. In group workshops I use floor cards for the key stages of the process and involve participants in support roles.